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Analysis: More to join ST in FDSOI ecosystem

Posted: 29 May 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:FDSOI? FinFET?

The semiconductor industry has been on the fence if fully depleted silicon on insulator (FDSOI) will ever become a viable alternative to FinFET. STMicroelectronics, so far, is the only company seen tilting at the FDSOI windmill. However, since ST last week announced that it has signed unnamed customers (see ST bags design wins for 28nm FDSOI), evidence is mounting for the emergence of an FDSOI "ecosystem." The momentum is slowly but surely building on a global scale, extending from Europe to Japan and China.

Beyond ST, companies on the FDSOI bandwagon today include IBM, Globalfoundries, design service companies such as Shanghai-based VeriSilicon and unnamed chip companies in Japan.

Of course, it can be argued that today's emergent industry trend is not the proof of how well the finished system using an FDSOI-based processor might function. Rather, it's evidence for the industry momentum that's now propelling FDSOI.

But FDSOI at the current 28nm node, and especially at future nodes like 14 nm, will have far-reaching ramifications in the semiconductor market of the future. As Dan Hutcheson, CEO of VLSI Research, noted, "If FDSOI really does prove to be a competitive advantage at 14nm, there could be an upset throughout the fabless/foundry supply chain, with Globalfoundries and its customers coming out on top."

That, of course, is not a given. Betting against the semiconductor technology leaders such as Intel and TSMC, who are throwing a lot of money at FinFETs, is rarely a wise course of action. (See TSMC FinFET production set in 2013.)

Indeed, many chip companies today are still cooling their jets on FDSOI, or at least avoiding public comment. The financial community isn't exactly pulling for the idea of FDSOI, either. If questions posed at ST's financial analyst meeting last week in London are any indication, financial analysts were clearly wary of ST, which is not letting go of its manufacturing ambitions and its pursuit of FDSOI technology.

That said, industry/technology analysts are agreed on the following.

"FDSOI is plan B for chip vendors because it is far easier to execute than FinFET," said VLSI Research's Hutcheson. "Planar CMOS is likely to have too high a leakage and will need a lot of transistor engineering to overcome its speed and power deficits."

Handel Jones, founder and CEO of International Business Strategies (IBS), agrees. FDSOI has advantages over bulk CMOS, because it offers "low power consumption compared to bulk CMOS at 28nm and 20nm C roughly by 30 per cent, while providing lower cost per transistor by 5 per cent at 28 nm and 25 per cent at 20nm," Jones explained. Further, he added, FDSOI's "design flow is similar to bulk CMOS." And "body biasing gives additional flexibility in design."

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